William Houston reported the other day that the long-anticipated CBC Sports Plus digital sports channel not only won't be launching this year, it may not launch at all.
Houston cites carriage issues as one of the major problems, which makes sense considering the difficulties TSN ran into trying to get Rogers to carry TSN2 (and TSN2 had much more high-demand programming when it started than CBC Sports Plus was anticipated to have).
This is disappointing news for Canadian sports fans as a whole. It might be particularly damaging to CIS fans hoping to see more televised university sports content. I first spoke to CBC Sports head Scott Moore on the subject for a Queen's Journal piece on CIS TV coverage in March 2008. At that time, he seemed quite optimistic that the CIS might have a place on the new channel: "I think it’s a great product that’s underexposed at the moment."
In September 2008, I took another look at the channel (see the factbox at the bottom of the page) and some other university sports initiatives, including some of The Score's new initiatives and Streaming Sports Network Canada's expansion of its coverage.
The other two networks were already in existence and thus had much firmer ideas about their coverage of CIS events, but Moore still sounded very positive about CBC Sports Plus and the chance to televise amateur sports content such as CIS. As I mentioned in my CIS Blog companion piece, CIS made a lot of sense for CBC, as the CRTC mandated them to carry at least 30 per cent amateur content per week and 80%amateur content per year. CIS sports fit both of those criteria very nicely, and the timing of many CIS games on weeknights and weekend evenings would have been perfect, seeing as much of the other amateur content (skiing, curling, swimming, etc.) generally takes place on weekend mornings.
The real disappointment is that it seems the Canadian Olympic Committee's proposed amateur sports network (which was also touched on in the first piece) is also dead in the water; its website hasn't been updated in more than a year. Both networks seemed quite promising and very interested in televising CIS content, and their interest alone might have convinced the other existing networks to see CIS programming as more valuable. Even the success of one of them could have made a substantial difference given the amounts of amateur sports content they were talking about carrying. For the moment, though, it looks like the status quo will prevail.
There is some reason for hope, though.
Houston's report makes it clear that CBC Sports Plus hasn't been officially written off yet, and it could still launch in the future.
If the CBC is able to acquire some high-end sports properties (more NHL content, some Blue Jays games, more basketball and soccer), it could be in a stronger position to force cable companies like Rogers to carry a new channel. Alternatively, Rogers Sportsnet's ratings could improve to the point where Rogers is no longer terrified of upstarts cutting in. There's also the chance that the CBC and cable companies might be able to come to a reasonable deal that would permit the channel to launch. It's not dead yet, it's just resting!
(Cross-posted to Sporting Madness)